I’m a planner. I like to know what my day, my weekend, my month holds well in advance. Which is not to say that I’m not adventurous, just that I like to be able to anticipate my adventures. Spontaneity sounds like a fantastic concept, but it’s just not for me. I’m also a dangerous combination of procrastinator and deadline-obsessor: I naturally leave things until the last minute, but I am compulsive about getting them done on time. Thankfully, I thrive on the pressure that combination creates.
But if you’ve seen me lately, you know that I’m living with an unplannable adventure in my near future.
The natural procrastinator in me wants to leave all that I have to do until the last possible minute; this tendency explains why I have twice in the past gone into labor without having packed my hospital bag. The deadline-meeter in me wants to know when I absolutely have to be ready because, obsessive as I am, packing those bags while I was in labor felt like some sort of failure each time—I didn’t plan ahead quite enough to meet that deadline! Unfortunately, due dates—or more accurately, childbirth dates—don’t function quite like deadlines.
“The best laid plans of mice and men/Often go awry,” wrote Robert Burns. I have had some occasion to learn about the frailty of my plans in this past decade.
Just over ten years ago, my freshly-married twenty-one year old self had big ideas about what my future life would look like. Career plans, family plans, plans for my husband—I had all sorts of goals and deadlines and plans. Suffice it to say that there isn’t much in my life ten years later that looks like what I imagined. Perhaps the most obvious place in which I’ve learned how my plans pale in comparison to those of the Master Planner is in the life and death of my daughter, Eliza.
(Though it’s been two years, it still surprises me sometimes when I learn that someone who seems to have been at All Saints forever doesn’t know Eliza’s story. Two years is longer than I realize, especially in a fast-growing congregation like ours. Anyhow, if you find yourself wondering to what I’m referring, you can read the whole story here: http://dixiejax.blogspot.com.)
Nothing—and I mean nothing—in Eliza’s life went as “planned,” not from day one. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord” in Jeremiah 29. I spent much of Eliza’s life wishing that I, too, knew the plans He had for me and for my daughter. I needed a deadline in order to procrastinate effectively and yet manage to accomplish all I needed to in the time I had with her: take all the right photographs, sacrifice enough sleepless nights, visit all the right people with Eliza in tow. But deaths, like births, most often carry their own deadlines that even committed planners like me can’t anticipate. “But little Mouse, you are not alone,/In proving foresight may be vain:/The best laid plans of mice and men/Often go awry,/And leave us nothing but grief and pain/In place of promised joy!”
I’m thankful to say that in spite of myself I managed to learn quite a bit about giving up control and plans in the nearly three years God gave Eliza to me. I still fail, however—daily, even—to remember that God’s plan is perfect and infallible…and largely inaccessible to me. But as my next big “deadline” approaches—that is, my March 17 due date—and as people ask me what my plans are for my children’s ministry work or maternity leave or any number of other things for which I would normally be planning compulsively, I’m finding freedom in my ability to say I’m not sure. I don’t know what to expect, or when, or how. But I know that God has plans for my “welfare, and not for evil, to give [me] a future and a hope.” I have found a kind of peace in realizing that just as I could not have planned or prepared for one bit of Eliza’s life or death, nor can I anticipate what I need to do to be prepared for her little sister’s life, either. God has that part under control, and my job is to trust His control and give up mine. For a control addict like me, that hasn’t been an easy lesson to learn, and I’m far from finished with the process. But I’m grateful for the weight off my shoulders every time I manage to give up a little more, to plan and obsess a little less. For me, at least, pregnancy is a good object lesson in our powerlessness: follow these few simple rules (vitamins, doctor visits, healthy foods) and wait. Wait on God’s perfect timing and God’s perfect plan. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who could benefit from applying that advice to many parts of my life.
[N.B. Just in case you parents were getting worried, fret not: I’m completely on top of my planning for your children’s programs! I may not know the details of when and how and what exactly to expect, but I am aware that I’m in for a change no matter what, and that pretty soon. And given the tendency for my children to arrive early, I’ve set myself the artificial deadline of March 1 to have all of my planning for children’s ministry ready, just in case. After all, I do believe I can trust and still do my best to be prepared…now off to pack that hospital bag.]